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A History of the Ceremony
Of Raising (Master's Degree)

By W.Bro. Dr.John Reginald
Courtesy Of MasonicPaedia.Org

[Paper presented in the Masonic Seminar arranged by Sri Brahadeeswara Lodge(No.150) on 4-1-2003, by W.Bro. Dr.John Reginald]

It is common knowledge today that the Craft consists of the Three Degrees of the Craft Masonry in all the jurisdictions. Most of us just accept this and think nothing about how this all came about. The Three Degree system had not existed from time immemorial. On the other hand it had been affirmed that pure masonry consisted only of two degrees. Dr.Anderson in his Constitutions of 1723 does not mention about three degrees or about the Hiramic Legend, which came to be included in the rituals over a long period of time and in a somewhat laborious manner. The whole change was not an overnight arrangement, but rather grew up over a period of years. To be more exact in the language of the great Masonic scholar Joseph Fort Newton “But the fact is that the Third degree was not made; it grew—like the great cathedrals, no one of which can be ascribed to a single artist, but to one order of men working in unity of enterprise and aspiration”. In fact, the early years of this change were times of great turbulence. Much of these historic events have been shrouded, in mystery and confusion. The eventual sorting out of the period by our Masonic historians was done in the face of minimal historical evidence, a large amount of reasonable assumption and with some pre conceived notions. Even today, some Masonic writers still find it a common ground on which to agree to disagree. And because of this lack of historical evidence it would be safe to say that the perplexing questions of the existence and growth of the three degrees, will remain a point for Masonic discussion for centuries to come.

2.One thing is reasonably certain. Prior to the early eighteenth century, two degrees were worked, the Entered Apprentice Degree and the Fellowcraft Degree. This is confirmed by the ancient manuscripts, the Edinburgh Register House Ms. of 1696 and the Sloan Ms. of 1659,which refer to two degrees, whilst the Trinity College Dublin Ms. of 1711 and the Graham Ms. of 1726 refer to three degrees. We can only speculate as to the sequence of events in the early 18 th century, that led up to the establishment of the three degree system in our Order.

3.As our Masonic historians have agreed to disagree on the interpretation of much of the evidence, there is of course no over-riding authority available to say as to who is correct. Let us first look at the word "degree". In its primitive form the word was used by the Operative masons as a method of acquiring different grades of skills, which usually consisted of Apprentices, Journeymen and Masters. It is pointed out here that later in the sequence of events, one of the big events that caused confusion centered around the interpretation and use of the word Master. To the Speculative mason the word "degree" infers the use of some form of ceremony which would advance the candidate to a higher rank, after he had had communicated to him certain distinguishing words, signs, grips and tokens.

4.Thus it is reasonable to assume that the Speculative mason attained different levels of speculative knowledge. Today, the word "degree" indicates a reward of advancing through an esoteric ceremony to a higher degree by the method of communicating words, signs, grips and tokens. Knowledge of the definitions of the words are necessary to make a good foundation towards the understanding of the history of the Masonic degrees.

5.Although we have a considerable amount of material available to us regarding Freemasonry generally in the pre-Grand Lodge era, there is very little information available to give us an idea of the internal workings of the lodges at that particular time. At this stage it may be well to remember that, at that time in history, when all of this was happening, it was a time of illiteracy. Very few people could either read or write. Hence the bulk of much that happened was handed down by word of mouth. The ritual was the words spoken by the Masters and naturally there was much variation and to some extent some confusion. A skillful Master would have delivered a fine flowery address, which was later adopted and followed by many others, tending to bring about some uniformity. Much of the early events had been handed down through the Gothic Constitutions of the seventeenth century. Many of these, fortunately, have been preserved and some are very valuable historically. But some confusion was brought about due to interpretation by some of the authors.

6. A further source of information is the various Exposures of Freemasonry, which have come to light from time to time. Exposures assumed great prominence after about 1723. Whilst these exposures furnish the historian with valuable historical evidence, as exposures, they had little effect on the acceptance of Freemasonry. Other information that one would reasonably expect to carry unlimited historical events and data, is not as readily available as one would wish. This is Lodge Minutes.

7.We have to emphasize the tremendous importance of Lodge minutes today. They will become the major source of the history of the lodge. Unlike many ideas of our present day, too much information cannot be placed in lodge minutes; and much more care should be given to the preservation of these records. Lodge Minutes of the early days extend back as far as 1598 and are, in the main, of Scottish origin. Only two English Lodges have minutes preserved of the pre-1717 era, and they are from Alnwick 1701 and Yorke 1712. So much information in this regard is lost forever. The major source of information regarding the degrees within the Order were the Manuscripts and Charges. They quite definitely marked the existence of the Two Degree System; the First and Second Degrees. By looking at the dates of the Sloane and Dublin Manuscripts some authors had suggested that the Three Degree System began to appear somewhere between 1659 and 1711.

8. Let us ponder for a short while over the many similarities of the present First and Second Degree, in their general structure and language. We find a tremendous difference in the structure and language of the Third Degree. The Hiramic Legend, surrounded by the Third Degree, did not happen overnight. This came to fruition over a period of time. There is no cut and dried date for this period of time. The introduction of the additional degree was not accepted immediately - for some time it caused great turbulence amongst the Fraternity. In the years prior to the formation of the First Grand Lodge, Lodges were answerable to no central point or control, and consequently they had no uniformity in ceremonial workings.

9. According to the Graham Manuscript the Third Degree Legend was known in some form in the 17th Century. The phrase "Sublime Degree of a Master Mason" was used on a Grand Lodge Certificate of Ireland in 1754. There is also record that it was used in 1767 by the Lodge of Friendship No. 6. But it does not seem to have been in general use until the end of the seventeenth century. The earliest known reference to the degree in Lodge Minutes in London occurred in 1727. So, taking a broad view of the confusing material available, and the reasonable assumptions made due to the lack of historical evidence, it would be, again, reasonable to assume that the Third-Degree System grew up by a gradual process between 1717 and 1730. That is about as precise as we can be.

10.As a matter of interest, the Third Degree System can be said to have been a "fact" in: France in 1731, in Scotland in 1735 and in Sweden in 1739.

11.This can be taken to be the period of the establishment of the Third Degree in the History of Freemasonry. As one would expect some lodges were openly against the re-arrangement of the Degrees, particularly in Scotland. This of course made the fixing of a precise date of change even more hazardous. There is no certainty about the exact date when the third degree began to be worked but, as far back as 1711, the Trinity College (Dublin) manuscript mentions three separate classes of masons: Entered Apprentices, Fellow Craftsmen and Masters, each with its own secrets.

12. By 1730, when Prichard's Masonry Dissected was published, the three-degree system had become firmly established. The introduction of the Hiramic legend in Freemasonry dates from the same period, as proven by the advertisement for sale in 1726 of a publication entitled The Whole History of the Widow's Son Killed by the Blow of a Beetle. The name Hiram appeared in masonic manuscripts much earlier, even centuries before, but we have no indication that the medieval mason was familiar with any tragic legend associated with that name, which appears in different spellings and variations, such as Anyone, Aman, Amon, Aymon and Hyman. We note here a certain confusion between the name Hiram, belonging to the King of Tyre as well as the chief architect, and the Hebrew word Aman or Ooman, meaning chief of the works or artificer. We are familiar with the Hiramic legend as exemplified in the third-degree ceremony. We should keep in mind, however, that like most myths, the legend is larger than any one specific recounting. This or that feature of Hiram Abif's story has been eliminated from some masonic rituals, but appear in others, in the allied masonic bodies, or in ceremonies belonging to other masonic rituals.

13. Albert Pike in his letter to Gould “Touching the Masonic Symbolism”, had opined that a few men of intelligence , who belonged to the four old Lodges, which founded the First Grand Lodge, “is to be ascribed the authorship of the Third Degree and the introduction of Hermetic and the other symbols into Masonry; that they framed the three degrees for the purpose of communicating the doctrines, veiled by their symbols, to those fitted to receive them and gave to others trite moral explanations, they could comprehend.” J.F.Newton however rejects those postulates and holds that neither Desaguliers, nor Anderson and Payne could have been those intelligent men referred to by Pike. He has also pointed out that, Anderson had dilated in his Constitutions of 1723 about the construction of the Temple and has added a note on the meaning of the word Abif and then abruptly stops with the observation that “But leaving, what must not , indeed, can not be communicated in writing”. It is unlikely that he had introduced a legend unknown to the then brethren.

14. Bro. Harry Mendoza in his paper, “The Words of a Master Mason” presented in Quatuor Coronati Lodge (Vol.102 A.Q.C. 164) has urged that “The earliest definite evidence, we have of a third degree is in 1725….although we have no evidence of a third degree prior to 1725, there are hints of some things we associate with that degree. In particular, the f.p.o.f and some form of word.

15. We also find in Masonic literature that at certain period the lost secrets were sought to be recovered by raising the dead. Graham Manuscript of 1726, mentions about the legend that after Noah died, his sons attempted to get the secrets by raising the corpse of Noah. On reopening the grave one son exclaimed there is still marrow in it. The other said it is dry bone and the third exclaimed, “ it stinketh”. Careful reasoning may pronounce that any attempt to obtain the secrets from the dead, after severe decomposition had set in is either abnormal or unwise. The rationale of such a practice is also rather difficult to understand. Some of the authors had opined that the lost word could not have been recovered by such a procedure, but that, what was indicated was a genuine attempt to regain the long lost secrets by proving worthy to receive such secrets. The available literature thus indicate that the present III degree had evolved over a time and became established some 2 or 3 decades after the formation of the Grand Lodge in England in 1717.

16.Bro.Harry Mendoza has convincingly pointed out that out of the 12 masonic manuscripts between 1700 to 1730, seven had specific Christian references. At some time the builder that was slain was said to be Jesus. That view was propounded by Bro.William Hutchinson in his book “Spirit of Freemasonry”, published in 1775. We find a reference in Matthew. 16:18, that, “But I say also unto thee, that Thou art Peter and upon this Rock, will I build my church”. We are all builders and symbolically our Master helps us to be living stones in that great edifice not built with human hands, but eternal in heaven. In that view Bro. Hutchinson's view does not appear to be totally incorrect. We also find that scriptures mention about resurrection and the immortality of the soul, which form some of the important tenets of freemasonry. The expression that there is yet marrow figuratively means there is goodness or the vital part or the essence and that was indicative of the fact even though Noah was dead and buried, his bones retained his righteousness and goodness. It is written in the first book of Peter that the flood of the time of Noah prefigured the water of the baptism, “ which brings salvation”[and possibly peace] “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. The ritual teaches us about the rising of that bright morning star, whose rising brings peace and salvation to the faithful and the obedient of the human race. It certainly reflects the teachings in the scriptures. The second expression “ a dry bone” has been used in the Holy Bible. Ezekiel 37 found a plain full of dry bones. He was directed by God to invoke “ Come O wind, from every quarter and breathe life into those slain that they come to life”. The spirit of God brought flesh and life to those dry bones. As regards the third expression “It stinketh”, we find in St.John11:39 mentioning about the raising of Lazarus, his sister Martha was directed by Jesus to remove the stone closing the cave in which the body of Lazarus was kept and Martha replied 'Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days'. She however carried out the command and Lord called out Lazarus and he came out. The above mentioned Biblical portions had been incorporated to emphasize that the righteous will be given a new life and immortality. But they gave way to the Hiramic Legend having universal application to persons of all religions.

17.Resurrection and immortality of the soul are not restricted to Christian Doctrines alone. The Holy Quran proclaims in the second Chapter “O Lord Thou shall surely gather mankind together unto a day of resurrection”. There are also 40 verses in the surah on resurrection. The other religions namely Hinduism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism also proclaim resurrection. All the moral teachings of the III degree are of universal application to all professing any religion. Thus the sublime degree of a M.M had evolved ushering in universality of freemasonry and the moral teachings of the degree, if followed, will secure to persons of all religious beliefs, a realization of the vital and immortal principle in us that will safely help us to pass through the valley of shadow of death, trampling the king of terrors beneath our feet. Even though we had been told that merit had been our title to the Masonic privileges, it should be our constant endeavour to continuously prove ourselves worthy of the same.

18.I thank you all for the patient hearing and thank the members of the Masonic Research Circle, particularly R.W.Bro. Ratnaswami for the guidance and encouragement extended to me.

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